A chance to right the ship went awry for the Montclair State University football team who dropped their home opener 27-24 to undefeated Salisbury University. With the loss, the Red Hawks fall to 1-3 on the season, and have now lost their last five games against the Sea Gulls dating back to 2015.
Montclair State’s captain, senior defensive lineman Brandon Burge, gave no excuses, stating that the team was focused heading into the big game.
“We were 100% ready for this game. Last year they got us good, 17-15,” Burge said. “We knew what we had to do. We came in, prepared during practice. We worked our asses off every single day. We really wanted this one, we really prepared. Not even just physically, but mentally as well.”
Salisbury would be the first to score, with a 39-yard touchdown pass and a failed extra point attempt putting them up 6-0 midway through the first quarter. Later in the quarter, an impressive stop by the stout Montclair State defense gave them the ball only 11 yards from the endzone. The Red Hawks offense took advantage with a two-yard touchdown run from junior running back Craig Merkle early in the second quarter that left the game tied at 6-6 after a missed extra point.
Just two plays after Salisbury got the ball back, a sack and forced fumble by freshman linebacker Michael Stefkovich was recovered by sophomore defensive lineman Dominic Ferrara to bring the Red Hawks offense back out onto the field in enemy territory. The offense was able to carry over their momentum from their previous successful drive and scored in three plays on a 16-yard rushing touchdown from senior running back Ralph McLean. A successful extra point gave Montclair State a 13-6 lead.
Salisbury would come back with a game-tying touchdown to leave the score even at 13-13 with a minute to go before halftime.
Neither team was able to muster much offense coming out of the break until late in the third quarter, when Red Hawks quarterback junior Ja’Quill Burch was able to connect with senior wide receiver Daunte Fletcher on a beautiful 62-yard pass downfield. The drive ended with junior kicker Anthony Marinelli succeeding on a 24-yard field goal attempt to give Montclair State a 16-13 lead heading into the final quarter.
The game began to slip away in the fourth quarter when Salisbury was able to score on back-to-back offensive possessions, giving them a commanding 27-16 lead. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, the outcome seemed all but certain.
The Red Hawks, however, would not go down without a fight, as Burch was able to orchestrate a 75-yard touchdown drive culminating in a picturesque 10-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Kason Campbell. After a successful two-point conversion, the lead had been cut to three, with Salisbury ahead only 27-24. This proved to be too little, too late for Montclair State as Salisbury ran out the clock to hand the Red Hawks their third loss in four games, and first in conference play.
Montclair State assistant running back coach Brandon Williams felt that his team had not been precise enough to come away with a win.
“Nothing major went wrong,” Williams said. “It’s just little missed assignments on offense, missed assignments on other sides of the ball as well. Just little hiccups here and there and that all adds up at the end of the game.”
Coach Williams also felt that his team could learn from their shortcomings on the field, notably in the fourth quarter.
“We can definitely learn how to finish,” Williams said. “We didn’t really put them away like we should have.”
Burge was eager to move on from the defeat, and ready to bounce back.
“It’s just all about how you respond,” Burge said. “Just responding better and putting this in our rearview mirror and just moving on.”
Coach Williams reiterated the captain’s position.
“We’re just moving on to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).” Williams said “We’re focused on them now, not looking ahead, not looking back. Main focus is on TCNJ.”